On October 17, 1821, at Farnham Castle, John Pitt, the Second Earl of Chatham - and by then William Pitt's only surviving family member - bequeathed a 'bracelet' of Pitt's hair to Mrs. Pretyman-Tomline. It was given to her as a 'keepsake,' it having been commonly worn by Lady Chatham. Presumably the Lady Chatham Mrs. Tomline refers to was Pitt's mother Lady Hester, Countess of Chatham (1720-1803).
|Fig. 1: The provenance note for the bracelet/necklace in Mrs. Tomline's handwriting|
The whereabouts of this curious artefact between 1803 and 1821 is not clearly known, however it is possible that it was in the possession of John Pitt, the 2nd Lord Chatham, after his mother's death in 1803, and potentially worn by John's wife Mary, the 2nd Countess of Chatham. Sadly, Lady Mary Chatham had died in May 1821, so perhaps John felt as though Mrs. Elizabeth Pretyman-Tomline would like to have it. It is not possible to know if this is the case, but it clearly came into Mrs. Tomline's possession from October 1821 onwards.
|Fig. 2: A 'bracelet' made out of William Pitt the younger's hair|
This strange piece of jewellery is described by Mrs. Tomline as a 'bracelet,' however as you can see from the image of the artefact above, it measures nearly 12 inches (a foot) long. It is more like a necklace, although it could also have been folded around the wrist several times to create a bracelet. The hair colour perfectly matches the lock of Pitt's hair taken at his death in January 1806 which is also located in the Pretyman MSS of Ipswich Record Office. Therefore, it is assumed to be made entirely from interweaved strands of Pitt's fine light brown hair (Source: HA 119: 6387/2).
|Fig. 3: A close-up image of the hair bracelet|
Although it can definitely be argued by modern observers that this is a piece of morbid jewellery, it should also be remembered that at the beginning of the 19th century, relatives and friends of the deceased did not have the luxury of photographs, videos, and other 21st century mementos of their loved ones. Due to the resilient nature of hair, many people during the 19th century (and before) kept memento mori and items of mourning jewellery. It was, in fact, all they had left.
Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS: HA 119: 6387/2. A 'bracelet' made of William Pitt the younger's hair.
Fig. 1: Pretyman MSS: HA 119: 6387/2. A provenance note in Mrs. Tomline's handwriting.
Fig. 2: Pretyman MSS: HA 119: 6387/2. A 'bracelet' made out of William Pitt's hair.
Fig. 3: Pretyman MSS: HA 119: 6387/2. A close-up image of the hair bracelet.